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Hang Time for Redskins

After Taking Big Lead, They Hold Off Pats

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 29, 2003; Page D01

Hanging on from way ahead this time instead of fighting back from far behind, the Washington Redskins again managed to reduce the outcome of a game to a final few frantic, gut-wrenching moments. And again, they found a way to escape with a victory, using a last-minute defensive stand to outlast the short-handed New England Patriots, 20-17, yesterday before 83,632 at FedEx Field.

Quarterback Patrick Ramsey completed only 10 passes and the Redskins were significantly outgained by the Patriots, who were without nine of their opening-day starters. The Redskins once more had some ill-timed penalties, and a 20-3 lead built on a pair of third-quarter touchdowns nearly evaporated in the final 17 minutes.

Champ Bailey, playing with a broken wrist and a sprained shoulder, made up for an early pass interference penalty with this interception in the second quarter. He would later force a fumble that Matt Bowen recovered inside New England's 10. (Evan Vucci - AP)

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But after years of finding exasperating ways to turn almost-certain victories into stomach-churning defeats, the Redskins (3-1) are forging an identity as a gritty team that usually does just enough right to win. Their three triumphs have come by a total of eight points, and none of their games has been decided by more than a field goal.

"It's been a long time coming," Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "We're proving that we're learning how to win."

The Patriots (2-2) had a chance to pull it out. A controversial call -- backed by an instant-replay review -- turned what the Redskins thought should have been a game-sealing, first-down catch by wide receiver Laveranues Coles into an incompletion. Coles appeared to make the catch and lose the ball out of bounds as he extended toward the first-down marker, but the rule requires a receiver to have possession as he lands on the ground.

A short punt by Bryan Barker gave New England possession at the Redskins 45-yard line with 1 minute 39 seconds to play, and a first-down incompletion and a five-yard completion to fullback Larry Centers on second down left the Patriots facing third and five with just more than a minute left.

Centers, a former Redskin, seemed to have some running room but the hole closed quickly, and he was slammed to the turf by linebacker Jessie Armstead after a two-yard gain. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw toward tight end Daniel Graham on fourth and three from the 38, but safety Ifeanyi Ohalete knocked away the pass and the Redskins and their fans finally could celebrate as one kneel-down by Ramsey ran the final 37 seconds off the clock.

"We're excited," Redskins Coach Steve Spurrier said. "We're happy to be 3-1. We realize it could be worse. . . . But hopefully when we get a lead, we can hang on to it better in the future."

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick found ways to keep the Redskins' offense -- ranked first in the league entering the game -- under wraps for much of the afternoon. Ramsey, who led the NFL in passing yards coming in, threw only seven passes in the second half and 22 for the game. He finished with a season-low 147 passing yards. Coles was double-teamed much of the day and was held below 100 receiving yards for the first time this season, finishing with five catches for 62 yards. The Redskins finished with 252 total yards, to 387 for the Patriots.

But the Redskins got 69 rushing yards on 12 carries by tailback Trung Canidate, and survived because they didn't commit any turnovers and forced four by New England. Cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Rashad Bauman and Ohalete had interceptions of Brady, who was playing with a sore elbow, and Bailey contributed perhaps the key play of the game when he stripped the ball from Patriots tailback Kevin Faulk just over a minute into the second half.

Safety Matt Bowen fell on that fumble and brought it to the Patriots 1-yard line, and backup tailback Ladell Betts bulled into the end zone behind rookie left guard Derrick Dockery on the next play to increase the Redskins' 6-3 halftime lead to 13-3. The Redskins cashed in again after place kicker Adam Vinatieri yanked a 46-yard field goal try wide left on New England's next drive, with fullback Rock Cartwright plowing into the end zone from three yards.

Brady rallied the Patriots with touchdown passes of 29 yards to wide receiver David Givens late in the third quarter and seven yards to Centers with 2:10 remaining, but they couldn't overcome their earlier missteps.

"Everyone's real disappointed," said Brady, who completed 25 of 38 passes for 289 yards. "It's more disappointment than we've had in a while because we really feel like we should have won."

The Redskins had won two weeks before in Atlanta after trailing by 17 points, and had overcome an 18-point deficit a week before in an overtime loss at home to the New York Giants. So they wanted to get off to a quick start yesterday. And they wanted to play error-free football after matching a team record with 17 penalties against the Giants.

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